Sunday, December 20, 2009

My Review of Doctor Who's: "The Ultimate Foe"

Written by Robert Holmes And Pip And Jane Baker
Directed by Chris Clough

The Doctor: “In all my travels throughout the universe, I have battled against evil, against power mad conspirators. I should’ve stayed here. The oldest civilisation – decadent, degenerate and rotten to the core. Power mad conspirators, Daleks, Sontarans, Cybermen, they’re still in the nursery compared to us. Ten million years of absolute power, that’s what it takes to be really corrupt.”

Without a doubt, the above quotation is one of the best pieces of dialogue that any Doctor has ever had to utter in the show’s history. I bet Colin Baker, judging by the conviction of his delivery was pleased as punch to get that wonderful speech to cite.

So, we’re at the end of the line and The Valeyard actually looks like he’s going to succeed. The Doctor appears to have his days number, but he can’t surely? That’s where the welcomed appearance of Sabalom Glitz, Mel and The Master all come into play.

There isn’t a single person who actually wanted The Valeyard to prevail but having The Master be the one to deny him the pleasure of The Doctor’s execution is a nifty touch. Both Glitz and Mel are able to vouch for The Doctor’s character but it’s really The Master who actually goes one better.

All this while, The Valeyard has felt little more than an overzealous Time Lord desperate for The Doctor’s death. Having him revealed as some possible Dark Doctor between our hero’s twelfth and thirteenth incarnations is a rather strange reveal. I’m not altogether sure I actually like it to be honest.

I know it suddenly makes The Valeyard a bit more interesting than his previous stories and it also tied nicely in with The Master’s belief of The Doctor having an evil side like anyone else but it does seem something of a gimmick. Plus it didn’t stop The Valeyard from jumping into the Matrix in a bid to lure The Doctor away from the court.

From what’s been gathered The Valeyard’s involvement with the High Council set about the destruction of Earth with the great fireball. This explained a lot of what was going on with “The Mysterious Planet” but The Valeyard’s quest for wanting The Doctor’s remaining lives. Surely he could’ve tried achieving this without a court hearing that could’ve exposed his plans.

The Doctor made plenty of wry comments about The Valeyard overestimating his genius and there’s a degree of truth to it as well. The Valeyard was stupid to use a court to get to The Doctor. Anyone else would’ve taken such a goal away from prying Time Lords. It’s also through the Matrix that The Valeyard tried winning against.

While the previous stories all had their merits, this one tried to be more surreal than all of them combined. In the Matrix, both The Doctor and Glitz were being attacked by various things that weren’t actually real. Even the cliff hanger with The Doctor about to sink in quicksand was lightly skimmed over.

I can understand why The Valeyard would want rid of The Doctor. He wants the freedom of being his own Time Lord and having The Doctor around more or less put the kibosh on that. That being said, once he had The Doctor in the Matrix, why not just it over and done with instead of dragging out the charades?

Glitz raised this point rather astutely, though The Doctor countered it with realising that The Valeyard wanted him humiliated as well as destroyed. That sounds like shades of The Master here, who in fact was actually better than The Valeyard. Even The Rani is better than The Valeyard despite this story actually being Michael Jayston’s best one to date.

The Master’s motives in this story worked arguably better than The Valeyard’s if I’m being honest. All he wanted was The Valeyard out of the way, so he could have The Doctor all to himself. He even used The Doctor in a failed attempted to try and kill The Valeyard. Sadly it didn’t succeed but points for effort.

The Master also then tried a brief attempt of taking over Gallifrey but thanks the Matrix going into total chaos; both he and Glitz’s plan were scuppered on that. Though to be fair on Glitz, all he wanted was some valuables. I got the impression that despite his wheeler dealer antics, he did actually like The Doctor.

Second story wise, Mel was at her best here too. Okay, so she sort of blew The Doctor’s attempts to out The Valeyard at first but how was she supposed to know that he wasn’t privy to The Valeyard’s latest illusion of The Doctor being sentenced?

The last few scenes with The Doctor and Valeyard duking it out weren’t as compelling as they would be. Still The Valeyard was defeated, even if he lived to save the day and The Doctor a much deserved apology from The Inquisitor as well as the relieving news that Peri was actually alive and living as Yrcanos’s warrior queen.

That might feel like something of a cop out after the events of “Mindwarp” but I can understand why John Nathan Turner might have felt pressurised into retconning Peri’s death for the youngsters. Also from The Doctor’s point of view, it has to be relieving for him to know that Peri is alive. He did care about her, even if he didn’t show it as well as he should’ve done.

In terms of a final story for Colin Baker, it’s probably not quite “The Caves Of Androzani” style of epicness that he might have hoped. Especially when his parting shot was to have The Doctor bemoan Mel for her insistence of carrot juice. You know, Mel cranberry juice is also healthy too, plus there’s an actual taste to it. I’m just saying.

Also in “The Ultimate Foe”

Because of the DVD, this is credited as “The Trial Of A Time Lord Parts 13-14”

Melanie (to Glitz): “I’m not Dibber and neither am I lad and what’s more, there’s nothing wrong with my voice.”

This story alone had three writers. Robert Holmes passed away before completing it and Pip And Jane Baker were drafted in after Eric Saward quit the show.

The Valeyard: “He’s lying my lady.”
The Doctor: “I don’t think so, Stackyard. It all begins to make very good sense.”
Melanie: “That’s it, Doc. Now we’re getting at the dirt.”

The Doctor (re The Valeyard): “Just a minute. Did you call him The Doctor?”
The Master: “There is some evil in all of us, Doctor, even you.”

If Eric Saward had actually written episode 14, then we’d have gotten a Doctor/Valeyard cliff hanger. Given that the show wasn’t in a secure place at the time, perhaps John Nathan Turner made the right decision.

Glitz: “How can we be in a different world? We just stepped into a door, that’s all.”
The Doctor: “Into the Matrix, where the only logic is there isn’t any logic.”
Glitz: “I knew this was a mistake. My grip on reality isn’t good at the best of times.”

The Master (to The Inquisitor/Melanie): “There’s nothing purer and more unsullying, madam than the desire for revenge but if you follow the metaphor, I’ve dropped a pebble into the water. Perhaps killing two birds with one stone and causing ripples that will rock the High Council to its foundations. What more could a renegade wish for?”

The Doctor’s attempts to deny some of The Valeyard’s illusion was a deliberate (and much welcomed) reference to “The Deadly Assassin”, which I also plan to review over Christmas.

Mr Popplewick: “My work is a celebration of all that is perfect. Why speed perfection?”
The Doctor: “Because your employer wants me dead.”

The Doctor: “This is an illusion, I deny it.”
The Valeyard: “Not this time.”
The Doctor: “This isn’t happening.”
The Valeyard: “You are dead, Doctor. Goodbye Doctor.”

Apart from subterfuge, was there really a point to Mr Popplewick and the Fantasy Factory at all?

The Master: “Welcome Doctor.”
The Doctor: “Well, I never thought I’d welcome the sight of you.”

The Doctor (to Melanie): “Unless we are prepared to sacrifice our lives for the good of all, then evil and anarchy will spread like the plague. The rule of law must prevail.”

Although we see a glimpse of Peri and Yrcanos, neither Nicola Bryant nor Brian Blessed are credited in this story. Plus The Doctor recommended The Inquisitor for presidency.

The Doctor: “It’s a far, far better thing I do than I have ever done. It’s a far, far rest that I go to. That I have ever known.”

The Doctor: “You know I am beginning to realise that I have misjudged The Valeyard Mr JJ Chambers, alias The Valeyard.”
Melanie: “Not for the first time. In fact how you’ve managed to survive 900 odd years beats me.”

I watched the Open Air DVD extra and was amused to see future “42” and Torchwood scribe Chris Chibnall there. Plus “Doctor In Distress” made me laugh and cringe at the same time.

The Doctor (to Melanie): “You know I think I was rash in turning down that presidency. Oh, carrot juice. Carrot juice, carrot juice, carrot juice.”

The DVD came out in August 2008 with a commentary from Eric Saward, Colin Baker, Tony Selby, Chris Clough and Pip And Jane Baker.

As an ending goes, “The Ultimate Foe” isn’t too bad. There are some nice surreal moments, The Master’s moments are a joy to watch but I can’t help but wish that overall Colin Baker was able to go out on a similar high to his predecessors and certain successors. Still, this was nowhere near as bad as I thought it was going to be and that’s a plus.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

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